The Fear of What If?

Good early morning,

This might be a no sleep night if the way things are going now does not change . . . and the consequences of hydration, diuretics, and vasodilators might make the attempt to sleep a moot issue. I am seriously debating getting dressed and going back to my office. “Being of some use,” in a Homer Wellsian sort of manner makes more sense to me than lying in bed and staring at the ceiling, not to say there are not times that such a practice might be reasonable. It is just that I do not generally do so. In fact, most often when my head hits the pillow, soon afterwards, I am on another plane. There have been times in my life that I struggled to rest, like my last year of graduate school, or when I went through the divorce from Susan. I believed that I was managing things well, but I know now that was pure fiction. During both times of my life, I turned to music to calm me down and make sleeping possible. To this day, the sounds of Peter Kater and R. Carlos Nakai, in their work, Through Windows and Walls, is my go-to listening. I used it more times than I might realize in the past 17 years as my sleep aide . . . It is still the same day and I did take an hour nap or so around 5:00 this evening. The day was busy and continuous from about 7:30 this morning until I left campus around 4:15. I got quite a lot done and wrapped my head around a couple of issues, meaning I have a plan to move forward. There are still some things to ponder moving toward that hoped for end result, but time will tell.

It is hard to believe I have known for 9 years today that I would be coming to Pennsylvania for a second time. It is 30 years ago this fall I first made my trek to the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA as a newly ordained pastor. Ironically, that is not that far from where I live now, but I was quite sure when I moved to Michigan to begin my life as a campus pastor and beginning academic in August of 1992, I believed there was little chance I would ever call myself a Pennsylvanian again. Now it is the state in which I have spent the longest continuous period since I graduated from high school almost 45 years ago. I remember being simultaneously excited and frightened each time I found myself packing to move to the upper middle Atlantic. The first time I knew little about what NEPA, as the acronym was offered, had in store for a 30-something year old pastor, who had not been married all that long. I learned about Pennsylvania Dutch, scrapple, and how the cold here, while much less frigid, was much more penetrating and uncomfortable. I learned and incorporated words into my own vernacular like tissues or sneakers, phrases that might include something like “did you outten the candles?” Or “are you goin’ with?” Then there was the ability with a little different voice inflection to make every statement an interrogative. In fact, there were moments in the 21 year hiatus that people would sort of both inquire and state, ” you used to live in Pennsylvania (you can insert either a period or question mark and be correct.). So certainly something in my speaking tipped them off to that fact.

As I came to Bloomsburg, there was a different fear the second time. I had somewhat failed in my previous tenure-track position. I had failed in not only the marriage that was part of my first Pennsylvania experience, but had gone through a second marriage also. The health issues that had manifested themselves completely the first time I was in Lehighton had wreaked havoc on my body in numerous ways over the ensuing two decades and I returned with a permanency that had been a temporary during my time in Lehighton twenty years before. In fact, when I had left Pennsylvania in August of 1992, what I believed to be my situation with UC was only beginning and what I really was fighting was a much more difficult and serious issue of Crohn’s. I still had much to learn and a great deal more I would have to experience. I have learned so much in the 1/2 my life where surgery has left me with a modified digestive system. I have learned about the struggle between the public and private. I have learned about how my image of myself so affects what I imagine others might think of me. I have learned some about the complexity that affects those who suffer from IBDs and how too many, even those afflicted, believe it is either a positive consequence or a negative consequence. It is so much more and exceedingly tougher.

I can honestly say that it has been both the questions and conscious support I have received in the last months that I can imagine life differently than I have imagined it for the last 18 years. While there have been some moments and one or two people who have made me feel accepted in the time period, nothing like I have felt in the more recent past. I do not believe I have ever taken a picture of myself with my ostomy, and while I have not shared it on any small or grand scale, the fact I could even consider a picture was to move beyond something that has frightened me since I first had that as a temporary companion. To actually take the picture is like move from looking at a ledge from across the room to walking up to the ledge. I know there are additional things one might consider, but both of these steps are beyond anything I had ever imagined a few short months ago. The power of image when it comes to our bodies is not a male, female, trans issue. It is a human issue. It is not a while, black, brown, or Asian issue; it is a human issue. It is not a rich, poor, educated, less-educated, extrovert, or introvert issue. It is something we struggle with from the time we can imagine other people’s response to us to when we are beyond our youthful wonderful eat-what-you-want, I-won’t-gain-an-ounce, to the middle age gravitational-reality faze (which is not gender specific) to being told I remind someone of their grandfather now period of my life. Regardless the point at which we find ourselves, we hope that we can somehow make a person take a second look. Part of that is physicality, but I believe much more of it has to do with simple desirability. We want to believe that somehow we matter in a personal, in possibly an intimate way (and there was many types of intimacy); we want to know that we can be remembered in a way that someone will value us when we are in a different place. Even after we are gone, be it metaphorically or in reality. I think every human fears being forgotten or trivialized to the place there seems to be little that can or needs be said.

I have noted this in previous blogs, and because I live a very different life than my Uncle Clare did, I do not see us in the exact same position or the same light. However, I have said on more than one occasion that I feel at times I am turning into him. I am that somewhat elderly single person, who can be curmudgeonly, who people are inviting because they do not want me to be alone. Ironically, to specifically not be like him, I have turned down some invitations at times and spent a holiday alone. Treating it much like any other day. I do not confess this to illicit sympathy, but more in the spirit of disclosure. Disclosure is always frightening. I have confronted more fears of late than almost anyone knows. Surprisingly, it has not been nearly as difficult as one might imagine, and certainly more freeing than I could have ever anticipated. Yet fear never really disappears. And fear is powerful; it is also paralyzing. Henry Ford once wrote, “One of the greatest discoveries a [human] makes, one of [the] great surprises, is to find [they] can do what [they] were afraid [they] couldn’t do.” Fear can cause us to pity ourselves and it can breed a sort of complacent comfortability creating a banal reality that robs us of a more fulfilling and meaningful life. The longer we make our excuses, the harder the change to something else becomes.

I know that I am great in justifying why I did not get around to something, complete a bit more of something, or why I merely passed up an opportunity. Somehow I find myself considering possibilities or imagining what ifs with more optimism or hope than I have in some time. While that too is a bit out of my comfort zone, and it causes me some fear, I believe imagining for once in way beyond a proverbial blue moon or even a super blue moon, seems to be better than not imagining. For the first time, it is not imagining or trying to control or steer something, but is is merely managing the moment, and it is not so much managing as it is living in it. This is not how I usually do things, so I am learning as I go along. Is there a fear of the “what if?”. You can bet the bank on it. Yet, I am not afraid. I am content. I am enjoying the hypothetical, the theoretical. Sometimes it is more enjoyable than I could have ever fathomed; in fact, it is incredibly stimulating. I am pretty simple in some ways. I was even told I was a bit innocent in a recent conversation. Not a word I would generally use, but as usual, they were (and seem often to be) correct. I actually appreciate that. There is a certain comfort in when something is offered it can be believed. Especially when in the world we watch and listen to on a daily basis is more “fake” than the faker would ever understand. Having a place of truth and honesty, while always important, seems to have even more value in our post-2016 world.

So as I finish my thoughts for the moment, I am staring down 10 days of classes left. As I do not have finals in my classes, that is it. Actually I have 9 days of actual class. I have more meetings than I can shake a stick at. I have a boatload of work in these two weeks and other things to complete and manage, but a bit of focus and I should be okay. Tonight the new and old mentors for the COB LC came to the acre for a cookout. Some are graduating, some are continuing, and some are just getting started. There is so much to learn and realize from their amazing abilities and the important and honest work they do. I am so grateful for what they teach me. They are honest in their fears and address their what ifs with a sense of purpose. Some are headed into internship summers. Some are considering more school. Some are working as they always do. Yet they move forward. It is all anyone can do. For me, these past weeks and months of moving forward has been both a bit fearful, but much more exhilarating.

Good luck with the end of the academic year, and as always, thank you for reading,

Dr. Martin

Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

One thought on “The Fear of What If?

  1. Dr. Martin,

    I got a notification that you had posted a few hours ago, so I thought I’d check out the blog once I got done with my late-night errands. I read several blogs, as I am wont to do, because I appreciate your words and think you are an excellent writer. I like what you said about disclosure, as I often find myself being somewhat apprehensive about being vulnerable.

    I can relate to not being able to sleep, and music helps when I’ve been spinning my wheels. Music is the thing that can, at times, drown out the noise, give words to emotions, find the things that need to be heard and hear them for you when your soul cries out for something that can’t quite be named. I’ve listened to “Lux Aurumque” more times than I can count since I heard it in class. I hadn’t heard “Now Thank We All Our God” since the organist at Trinity Lutheran in Shamokin passed away, yet I played it several times when I saw that it was posted in the announcements on Bolt.

    Fear is something that I understand. I think it is what is at the root of the anxiety that rears its ugly head more days than not. I tend to ruminate on the past, especially past interactions with people that I care for. What could I have done differently? Did I say or do the right things? Was I there for them when they needed me? It’s especially bad right after I know I’ve messed something up: like wheels turning in the mud, the rumination kicks up everything underneath until I’m buried in anxious feelings. I’m often reminded of my grandmother, whom I should have called more often before she passed away unexpectedly. Half of the church congregants come to mind when I think of people I used to walk with but could have walked with much better and for much longer. Jan, the church organist, used to plan hikes with me and my siblings, content to just walk with us down paths covered with autumn leaves.

    The move to PA as a kid was difficult because I had spent so much time moving from place to place on Long Island, often at unexpected times, often leaving most of my stuff behind, only to settle somewhere else very quickly. I’ve been in PA the longest, but even here I moved around in the same area quite a bit. I am a stranger in a strange land most of the time, and maybe that won’t go away, if I’m honest. At a time when I’m expected to be meeting all kinds of people, I am usually the one both arriving and leaving most events I get invited to alone.

    You asked me who my last good friend was. If you go to Starbucks on any given morning, he’s usually sitting in the back at the same table. You see, he’s just like me, but smarter and more gracious. And I’m just going to keep telling him. He saved my life this semester, and I think he might be stuck with me, too.

    Thank you again for your words. I can’t fix anything, but I’ll walk with anyone through anything if they need me to.



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